Afghanistan - Wiping out Al Qaeda was a national necessity. You can't let people kill thousands of Americans without being wiped out themselves. We mainly achieved that, we destroyed most of Al Qaeda and overthrew the Taliban. But then what have we achieved by staying there an extra 9 years? Just more dead Americans and when we leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will likely be back. Even if they aren't, the current government is only mildly allied to us at best these days. The whole nation building aspect was all for nought. We probably could have done better if we were more merciless about wiping out the Taliban but clearly neither Bush nor Obama had the stomach for it.
Iraq - Wiping out Saddam and his murderous family was a mitzvah. That much is clear. But destroying the whole Sunni power structure in our quest to re-engineer Iraq has just led to Iran gaining more power in the majority Shiite nation. Things are so bad that when the Iranians were looking for a friendly city to hold nuclear talks, Baghdad was at the top of the list. We probably should have just decapitated the government, allowed the Kurds to secede and have their own nation and left it at that. We would probably be in relatively the same place today but with a lot fewer dead Americans and it would have been a lot cheaper.
Egypt - I realize we didn't intervene militarily here but given our closeness to Egypt, we certainly helped push Mubarak out of power. Mubarak, who was a dependable ally to the US and who even helped Israel is most likely going to be replaced by an anti-American, anti-Israeli Islamic dictatorship which persecutes Christians and other minorities. Tell me how we are better off after our soft intervention?
Libya - We overthrew Ghadaffi and are we really better off? I certainly don't miss the man but are things so much better in Libya now that he isn't there? If anything Al Qaeda is probably stronger now that he isn't there.
I realize what is happening in Syria is atrocious. There is certainly a part of me that wishes Assad and his murderous family was being scraped off the ground right now. But what will that get us? Maybe some goodwill? But how long will that last? Judging by how long it lasted in other interventions in the area, the answer is clearly "not very long". Daniel Pipes actually makes a good point about why it is in our interest to stay out of it:
I realize that standing by and doing nothing also has a cost. It's very hard to stand by and watch as innocent women and children are massacred by a repressive regime, it practically seems un-American. But we just can't keep policing the world, especially when we are talking about a country that really doesn't get us anything by intervening in.
- It lessens the chances of Damascus from starting a war with Israel or re-occupying Lebanon.
- It increases the chances that Iranians, living under the thumb of the mullahs who are Assad's key ally, will draw inspiration from the Syrian uprising and likewise rebel against their rulers.
- It inspires greater Sunni Arab anger at Tehran, especially as the Islamic Republic of Iran has been providing arms, finance, and technology to help repress Syrians.
- It relieves the pressure on non-Muslims: indicative of the new thinking, Jordanian Salafi leader Abou Mohamad Tahawi recently stated that "The Alawi and Shi'i coalition is currently the biggest threat to Sunnis, even more than the Israelis."
- It foments Middle Eastern rage at Moscow and Beijing for supporting the Assad regime.